A majority of Blackfeet Nation voters on Thursday voted to approve a water rights agreement with Montana and the United States.
An unofficial early count had 75% of the more than 2,100 votes in favor of approving the Blackfeet Water Compact and Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act.
The Tribe’s approval was the final element needed for the compact to become effective.
The agreement was passed by Congress several months ago and signed by President Obama in December after more than 40 years of negotiations.
It will also give the Blackfeet Nation water rights for all six drainages on the reservation.
Tribal leaders held a press conference at the Holiday Inn in Great Falls on Friday morning.
Harry Barnes, chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, said in a press release, "This is a historic day for the Blackfeet people. All of the time and effort by Blackfeet staff and leaders over the past four decades was well worth it. The benefits of the water compact will be seen for generations to come."
The compact will provide the tribe with $422 million in federal funding and $49 million in state funding for water-related infrastructure projects on the Blackfeet Reservation. The money will fund new and/or improved irrigation systems, development of community water systems, development and management of fisheries, and land acquisition.
Negotiations on the agreement began more than 30 years ago. The compact passed the Montana Legislature in 2009 and received Congressional approval late last year. The compact includes $471 million for water-related projects including new or improved irrigation systems, the development of community water systems and land acquisition.
A study by the U.S. Department of Interior projects that the settlement act could create up to 500 short-term jobs and up to 200 long- term jobs.
Blackfeet leaders will now begin working to implement the settlement, including the development of a community-based plan by soliciting input from tribal members.